Thursday, January 15, 2009

Facebook, Twitter and Connecting to My Past

I graduated from High School in 1980. I've missed countless reunions and not stayed in touch with anyone from my West Coast past at St. James Catholic Elementary School, St. John Bosco, Palos Verdes High School, Stanford, UCSF, UC Berkeley, or Harbor-UCLA. As I approach 50, I have a nostalgic curiosity about what happened to my friends, my competitors, and my detractors.

In the era before social networking I would have had to fly to California for my 30th reunion in 2010. However, we're now in the era of Facebook, Twitter and complete connectivity that I believe has eliminated the need for reunions or other reasons to rediscover your past.

Over the last month, Facebook and Twitter have reconnected me to the 1980's.

My best friend from High School, Will Snow, an engineer at Sun, has linked to me on Facebook and updated me about his two young children, his hobbies and his life in Northern California.

Will's High School girlfiend, Katherine Hoy, linked to me and told me about her family, her life in the UK and her planned move back to the US.

My next door neighbor and grade school friend, Mark Poncher, linked to me and told me about his career in theater, as an event producer, and life in Southern California.

My elementary school friend from 4th grade, John Webber, linked to me and talked about his family and career.

My Stanford friend, Rod Beckstrom, linked to me and described his career as Director of the National Cyber Security Center in Homeland Security.

On Facebook I have nearly 200 friends and on Twitter I have nearly 300 followers (who are these people?). I've passed 500 connections on Plaxo and LinkedIn. Every day, I'm updated on the actions of nearly 1000 people that I've been close to for the past 50 years.

My email signature gives everyone easy access to my social networking sites:

John D. Halamka MD
CIO, Beth Israel Deaconess and Harvard Medical School

The end result of all this is that my digital life transcends time, jobs, and geography. I can just as easily talk to Harvard colleague as I can an elementary school lunch buddy. There is no need for a reunion, no need for nostalgia, and no need for a scrapbook of 40 year old photographs.

Social networking enables me to constantly live in the present, linked to the contacts of my life with constant updates, personal messages, and reconnections.

I do wonder what happened to a few folks in my High School past - David Kratz, Phil Talbert, Glenn Seidman, Susan Kattlove, and Hillary Stoltz.

Chances are they will appear on one of my social networking sites soon.

The reunion is dead. The memories of the past are now the lunch date of the future.


dhandelsman said...

One of the better descriptions I heard regarding how Facebook and Twitter are different was the following:

"Facebook is about people you used to know; Twitter is about people you'd like to know better" (

I find this to be pretty accurate based upon my various social media contacts.


Unknown said...

So, Dr. John, how do we leverage such social networking technologies to improve health care?

John Halamka said...

Pete - I discuss the use of social networking tools in my blog post about the ideal community health record

Marc said...


I agree with the technological, economical and environmental aspects of your posting. Social networking and telepresence via the Internet is wonderful and powerful on many levels. The world is now less curved! For better and worse I can work from just about anyway I am!

I definitely don't agree with your next to last sentence, "The reunion is dead." Human interaction and communication is a lot more than ASCII, JPEGs and MPEGs. Is the family reunion dead too? I had countless interesting interactions at my 30 year reunion. Lots of serendipity too. I urge you to be "actually-present" at your reunion in 2010. Maybe Boeing can lend you a test version of their completely electric plane to get there?


Judy F said...


I follow your blog for professional reasons and because I simply enjoy the variety of the posts. This one rang especially true. I am turning 50 this year and have found a need to reconnect with people from my past, primarily through facebook and linkedin. It’s addicting and rewarding. I also find it’s a new dimension in getting to know people. An example: I have a distant cousin (not local) who runs NASA TV. He is interesting and I always enjoy our conversations but they are limited to once every couple of years at large family gatherings. We are connected on facebook where he is exploring some of the tools such as ‘where I’ve been’ and ‘we’re related’. I’m enjoying getting to know him better through his eyes.

Many of us are time limited. Social networking tools allow me to further relationships as I find small pockets of available time.


John Halamka said...

Marc - thanks for your comments. To clarify my statement about the end of reunions, I meant that continuous interaction with people on line and in person is now possible because of our connectedness. I'm getting together for dinner with several old friends who connected me via social networking applications for frequent mini-reunions.

Unknown said...

Of course, Facebook, Twitter and other social networking tools, including email, enable one to reconnect and stay connected to friends from their past. However, your leap to (therefore) "There is no need for a reunion," is completely illogical. In fact, just the opposite should be true. The closer connections one has with more people from their school days coupled with the ease of communicating with them (e.g. to encourage them to come to a reunion) should make reunions more popular, not less.

daveinsv said...

First time on your blog. Great blog, great post. However, I'll bite at your ending comment that "reunions are dead" (it's my guess that you don't believe that entirely). I'll take the opposite position (mostly for sake of argument) and say that social networking will INCREASE reunions! Why? Two reasons. First, by staying in touch with old friends, I think people will be more inclined to attend a reunion. Secondly, by staying in touch with new friends/associates, we will have more reasons to attend trade shows/conferences/reunions than ever before. IMHO.

John Bacon said...

small world: I was thinking the same thing and wondering what had become of Susan Kattlove (PVHS nemesis, at least grade wise) and David Kratz (friend since Valmonte school days in PV, though year older). Your posting was one of few that got relatively high Google ranking for both of them.

Both went to Harvard and I had seen David a few times since he moved to Hungary, where he lived with Hugarian wife, but last contact was 10 years ago. Susan seems to be in physciatric practice in Cambridge, so your neighbor of sorts.

I went to Yale and never got back to CA. Now a fundraiser for The New York Public Library and a New Yorker. And in spite of working for NYPL and living with a computer scientist, cannot get into social network thing: go figure.

John Bacon
(never graduated from PVHS, but would have been class of 1981: went to Belgium instead with AFS)

P.S. did David or Susan over contact you after this post?

John Halamka said...

Great to hear from you John! No one has contacted me from PVHS. I did post this new entry too in the question for my past -